Thursday, 8 May 2014
The Rescuers (2011) is a documentary film that follows the Rwandan anti-genocide activist Stephanie Nyombayire, and the renowned Holocaust historian, Sir Martin Gilbert as they spend 35 days travelling through 15 countries and 3 continents to meet with survivors and relatives, of the righteous diplomats who risked their own lives to save thousands of Jews from death.
The narrative provided by Nyombayire recalls the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide that killed many members of her family. She shares her thoughts and ideas to prevent such tragedies from happening again. However, Stephanie’s raison d’etre is merely acknowledged rather than explored as beyond the countless stories of heroism and her eager quest for knowledge, her role appears rather superfluous. What we find out about Nyombayire’s personal story is both powerful and devastating and she claims when interviewing her subjects that part of the reason they are filming the documentary is because of the contemporary genocides in Rwanda and Darfur. Yet her personal story is only touched upon and seems sadly shoehorned in for the sake of poignancy.
The heroes of this film are represented by some passionate voices many of these previously untold stories provide critical information that has the capacity to advance our understanding of genocides and how we can further prevent such horrors. Sir Martin Gilbert is the voice of authority on the subject, providing valuable educational context with his informative narrative. As a film about survivors of the holocaust and those who helped save them, the film is an informative and valuable historical account but unfortunately, with its overtly ambitious premise, the film lacks focus in its attempt to cover too much ground on the subject.
Stylistically too, the film lacks consistency. The camera captures our narrators in intimate and unnecessary sentimental moments, that, compared to the harrowing archive footage, comes across as contrived. Some of the film’s subjects are captured in conversation, others chat to an invisible voice in a studio setting, some scenes are dramatised, others are explained with newsreel footage and images. It’s almost as if director, Michael King, is unable to gage the intellect of his audience. The mixture of style at times distracts from the weight of the subject matter. However, nothing is more distracting than the film’s almost unbearable score which has the troubling sentiment of a daytime TV movie. At times, it is so abstractly cacophonous and incompatible that it mutes the spoken word narrative and irritatingly diminishes the emotive context.
The Rescuers is undoubtedly a compassionate film with moral compass that points firmly in the right direction. It contains some incredibly affective and touching moments and there is no doubt that Sir Martin Gilbert is a reliable expert on the subject matter. If anything this documentary will encourage viewers to further explore the story of the brave diplomats who provided light throughout such a dark time in history. As a documentary film however, it fails to engage due to its capricious composition and tonal inconsistency. It’s heart is in the right place but its cerebrum unfortunately, is not. The righteous deserve more characterisation and celebration than the running time of this documentary allows. That being said, so does the advocacy work of Stephanie Nyombayire and her critical knowledge of contemporary genocide, as just when you think the film is finally going to detail her accomplishments, it abruptly ends.